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THE CHRISTMAS THAT WAS NEARLY LOST
T snowed hard all the next day, so hard that
even Barney did not venture out; and
David spent his time between the kitchen,
where Johanna was frosting the Christmas cake,
and the woodshed, where Barney was making
the "woodpile look mortal weary."
David's mind was full of the happenings of
the days that had passed, and of future plans.
Everything had been as fine as a boy could
wish, but he did not want it to stop. Here it
was two days before Christmas, and he was
quite sure there was still a lot to be found.
The question was, where should he look for it
now that the matter of neighbors had been
As for the plans, they were growing every
minute; but he had decided to say nothing
about them to Johanna and Barney until the
next day, when they were full-grown. Of one
 thing David felt certain: nothing could keep
Christmas away this year. And so when
Barney began to tease him on one of his trips to the
woodshed and say that if this weather lasted
he guessed the Christmas present from father
would get there about Washington's Birthday
and that he guessed it would take a Santa Claus
with seven-league boots to make the hilltop this
year, David just smiled and looked very wise.
Something was going to happen; he knew
perfectly well that something was going to
happen. And so, when it actually did happen,
about half-way between dinner and supper
time, he was not nearly as surprised as Johanna
and Barney, who in a way might have expected
They were all three startled by a banging on
the door and a stamping and pounding of feet
outside. So loud did it sound in the midst of
the silence that David thought there must be
at least a dozen men. Great was his
astonishment, therefore, when Barney swung open the
door and a solitary figure stepped in, muffled in
fur to the eyes.
"Burrrrrrrrrrr!" boomed the figure, and then
he swept off his cap and made a laughing bow.
"Hello, Johanna! Hello, Barney! You never
 thought I would remind you right in the midst
of a Christmas blizzard of that promise you
made last summer. Come now, did you?"
"Holy St. Patrick!" gasped Johanna.
"Mr. Peter!" ejaculated Barney. "But how
in the name of all the saints did ye ever make it
in this storm?"
The man laughed again.
"Just the usual nerve of the tenderfoot. I
left my painting-kit, bag, and canvases with the
station-agent. He has promised to send them
up if the storm ever stops. And I made a
wager with him—a gallon can of next spring's
syrup against a box of cigars—that I'd be here
by four o'clock. What's the time?"
He had his things off by this time and was
looking at his watch.
"Aha! Ten minutes to the good! If your
wires are not down, Barney, I'll call him up.
He'll be wanting to get ready to tap that
The next moment they could hear his voice
booming at the telephone.
"Yes, siree. Here I am, and not even my
breath frozen. No, you needn't be sending out
that snow-plow after me just yet. Only get my
things up here as soon as you can. All right!"
 Another instant he was back in the room
again, vigorously shaking Johanna's and Barney's hands.
"Yes, here I am, to paint those snow
canvases I've been going to do so long, and to
Then it was that for the first time he became
conscious of David in the window recess.
"Bless my soul! Who's this, Johanna?"
Johanna explained, and David came forward
and held out an eager hand. He liked this
Mr. Peter tremendously, in spite of his last
remark, and he was no end glad he had come.
The man returned David's greeting with equal
cordiality, while he screwed up his face into a
comical expression of mock disgust.
"And I came up here to dodge Christmas!
Say, young man, do you think it's possible for
any person to get away from Christmas with a
"I hope not," laughed David.
"You don't mean to tell me that Christmas
hasn't grown into a very tiresome, shabby affair
that we would all escape from if we only had the
courage? You don't believe there is anything
in it nowadays, do you, except the beastly
grind of paying your friends back and thanking
 your lucky stars it doesn't happen oftener than
once a year?"
"I certainly do, sir." David spoke as one
The man rubbed his hands together
thoughtfully and his eyes twinkled.
"I see. Johanna and Barney have gone off
to fix a bed for me somewhere, so suppose we
discuss this matter thoroughly. I'll tell you
my personal feelings and you can tell me yours.
In the end, maybe we'll compromise!"
He led the way to the window-seat and spread
himself out comfortably in one corner; David
curled up in the one opposite.
"To begin with," and the man pounded his
knee emphatically, "Christmas is responsible
for a very bad economic condition. Every one
spends more money than he has; that's very
bad. Next, you generally put your money into
articles that are neither useful nor beautiful;
you give your maiden aunt handkerchiefs and
she has ten dozen of them already put by in her
closet, while you send a box of candy to the
janitor's little girl, who can't go out because
she hasn't any shoes to wear. Now if I could
borrow an invisible cloak and go around a week
before Christmas, peeping in on all the folks
 that need things and finding out just what they
need, and then come back on Christmas Eve
and drop the gifts unseen beside their doors—well,
that might make Christmas seem a little
less shabby. But as it is, I'm not going to give
away an inch of foolish Christmas this year.
And I'm not going to say `Merry Christmas' to
a solitary soul."
"Maybe you'll forget," laughed David.
"Now, is it my turn?"
Mr. Peter nodded.
"Well, I've found out, just lately, that
Christmas isn't things—it's thoughts. And
I've an idea how to make a bully Christmas this
year out of nothing."
He hunched up one knee and clasped his
arms about it.
"You see, I used to think that you couldn't
have Christmas without all the store fixings and
lots of presents, just as you do. And when I
first came 'way up here I thought it was just
naturally 'good-by, Christmas.' Then something happened."
"Suppose you tell me what. We might
make a better compromise if I understood just
what did happen."
David considered him thoughtfully.
Jo-  hanna had said while he was out at the
telephone that Mr. Peter was a painter, a bachelor
chap with no one in particular belonging to
him, and David wondered if he would really
understand. As Johanna had often said,
"There are some things you just can't put
through a body's head."
"Things happen 'way up here in the hills that
would never happen in the city, never in a
hundred years," he began, slowly; and then,
gaining courage from the painter's nod of
comprehension, he told all about everything. Of
course he could not tell all the stories as they
had been told to him—there was not time—but
he told about them, and particularly about the
"And that isn't all," he finished, breathlessly.
"I've a great plan for to-morrow night, if
Johanna and Barney and you will help."
"We might make that the compromise,"
smiled Mr. Peter. "What is it?"
David told, and when he had quite finished,
the man beside him nodded his head as if he
"What does Johanna say?" he asked.
"I haven't told her yet."
"Well, we'll ask Johanna and Barney
to-  night. Now let's hunt them up and find out
when supper is going to be ready. I'm as
hungry as a bear."
But before the plans were unfolded to Barney
and Johanna that evening Mr. Peter told a
story. He offered it himself as something he
had picked up once upon a time, he could not
remember just where. He said it was not the
kind of a story he would ever make up in the
wide world, but he thought it just the kind
David might make up.
And here it is as the painter told it two nights
It was four o'clock on Christmas morning and
Santa Claus was finishing his rounds just as the
milkman was beginning his. Santa had been
over to Holland and back again where he had
filled millions of little Dutch shoes that stood
outside of windows and doors; he had climbed
millions of chimneys and filled millions of
American stockings, not to mention the billions
and trillions of Christmas trees that he had
trimmed and the nurseries he had visited with
toys too large for stockings. And now, just as
the clock struck four, he had filled his last
stocking and was crawling out of the last
 chimney onto the roof where the eight reindeer
were pawing the snow and wagging their stumps
of tails, eager to be off.
Santa Claus heaved a sigh of relief as he shook
the creases out of the great magic bag that
was always large enough to hold all the toys
that were put into it. The bag was quite
empty now, not even a gum-drop or a penny
whistle was left; and Santa heaved another
sigh as he tucked it under the seat of his sleigh
and clambered wearily in.
"By the two horns on yonder pale-looking
moon," quoth he, "I'm a worn-out old saint and
I am glad Christmas is over. Why, I passed
my prime some thousand years ago and any
other saint would have taken to his niche in
heaven long before this." And he heaved a
As he took up the reins and whistled to his
team he looked anything but the jolly old saint
he was supposed to be; and if you had searched
him from top to toe, inside and out, you
couldn't have found a chuckle or a laugh anywhere about him.
Away went the eight reindeer through the
air, higher and higher, till houses looked like
match-boxes and lakes like bowls of water; and
 it took them just ten minutes and ten seconds
to carry Santa safely home to the North Pole.
Most generally he sings a rollicking song on his
homeward journey, a song about boys and toys
and drums and plums, just to show how happy
he is. But this year he spent the whole time
grumbling all the grumbly thoughts he could
"It's a pretty state of affairs when a man
can't have a vacation in nearly five hundred
years. Christmas every three hundred and
sixty-five days and have to work three hundred
and sixty-four of them to get things ready.
What's more, every year the work grows harder.
Have to keep up with all the scientific
inventions and all the new discoveries. Who'd have
thought a hundred years ago that I should have
to be building toy aeroplanes and electric
motors? And the girls want dolls' houses with
lights and running water! I declare I'm fairly
sick of the sight of a sled or a top, and dolls
and drums make me shiver. I'd like to do
nothing for a whole year, I tell you—nothing!
It's a pretty how d' y' do if the world can't get
along for one year without a Christmas.
What's to prevent my taking a vacation like
any other man? Who's to prevent me?"
 The reindeer had stopped outside of Santa's
own home and he threw the reins down with a
jerk while he tried his best to look very gruff
"Suppose I try it. By the Aurora Borealis,
I will try it!"
And then and there Santa Claus began his
He closed up his workshop, locked the door,
and hung the key in the attic. He turned his
reindeer loose and told them to go south where
they could get fresh grass, for he would not need
them for a year and a day. Then he made
himself comfortable beside his fire, and brought
out all the books and the papers he had been
wanting to read for the last fifty years or more,
and settled down to enjoy himself. He never
gave one thought to the world or what it would
do without him; therefore, it never occurred to
him to wonder if the news would get in the
papers. But you know and I know that in
time everything that happens gets into the
papers; so the news spread at last all over the
world that Santa Claus was taking a vacation
and that there would be no Christmas next year.
And what do you think happened then?
First of all the Christmas trees stopped
grow-  ing. "What's the use?" they whispered one to
another. "We sha'n't be wanted this year, so
we needn't work to put out new shoots or keep
especially green and smart-looking." And the
holly and the mistletoe heard them, and they
said: "Well, why should we bother, either, to
get our berries ready as long as we shall not be
needed for decoration? Making berries takes a
lot of time, and we might just as well spend it
Next, the storekeepers began to grumble, and
each said to himself, "Well, if Christmas isn't
coming this year why should I spend my time
making my shop-windows gay with gifts and
pretty things?" And the pastry cooks and the
confectioners said they certainly would not
bother making plum-puddings, Christmas pies,
or candy canes.
Soon the children heard about it. For a long
while they would not believe it, not until
Christmas-time came round again. But when
they saw the Christmas trees looking so short
and shabby, and the Christmas greens without
their berries, and the streets quiet and dull, and
the shop-windows without the pretty things in
them, they grew sober and quiet, too. And in
less time than I can tell you the whole world
 grew stuffy and stupid and silent and unlovely.
Yes, the whole world!
Now, in a very small house in a very small
town that stands just midway between the
North Pole and the equator and half-way
between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (you can
find the town for yourself on any map if you
look for it with these directions) there lived a
small boy. He was sturdy and strong, and he
had learned two great lessons—never to be
afraid and never to give up. He saw what was
happening all over the world, because
everybody believed that Christmas had been lost, and
he said one day to his mother:
"Mother, little mother, I've been thinking
this long while if Santa Claus could see how
things are going with every one down here he
would bring Christmas back, after all. Let me
go and tell him?"
"Boy, little boy," said his mother, "tell me
first how you will find your way there.
Remember there are no sign-posts along the road
that leads to Santa Claus."
But the boy squared his shoulders and took
a firm grip of his pockets and said he, "Why,
that's easy! I'll ask the way and keep on till
I get there."
 In the end his mother let him go. As he
walked along slowly he questioned everything
he passed—birds, grass, winds, rain, river, trees.
All these he asked the fastest road to Santa
Claus; and each in turn showed him the way
as far as he knew it. The birds flew northward,
singing for him to follow after; the grass
swayed and bent and made a beaten path for
him; the river carried him safely along its
banks in the tiniest shell of a boat, while the
winds blew it to make it go faster. Each horse
or donkey that he met carried him as far as he
could; and every house door was opened wide
to him, and the children shared with him their
bowls of bread-and-milk or soup. And
wherever he passed, both the children and the grownups
alike called after him, "You'll tell him;
you'll make Santa Claus come and bring our
Christmas back to us!"
I cannot begin to tell you the wonderful
things that happened to the boy. He traveled
quickly and safely, for all that it was a long
road with no sign-posts marking the way; and
just three days before Christmas he reached the
North Pole and knocked at Santa Claus's front
door. It was opened by Santa himself, who
rubbed his eyes with wonder.
 "Bless my red jacket and my fur boots!" he
cried in astonishment. "If it isn't a real, live
boy! How did you get here, sirrah?"
The boy told him everything in just two
sentences; and when he had finished he begged
Santa to change his mind and keep Christmas
for the children.
"Can't do it. Don't want to. Couldn't if I
did. Not a thing made. Nothing to make anything
of. And you can't have Christmas without
toys and sweets. Go look in that window
and see for yourself." And the old saint
finished quite out of breath.
The boy went over to the window Santa had
pointed out and, standing on tiptoe, peered in.
There was the workshop as empty as a barn in
the spring. Spiders had built their webs across
the corners and mice scampered over the floors,
and that was all. The boy went slowly back to
Santa and his face looked very sad.
"Listen to this," he said, and he took a
seashell from his pocket and held it close to old
Santa's ear. "Can you hear anything?"
Santa listened with his forehead all puckered
up and a finger against his nose.
"Humph! It sounds like somebody crying
 "It's the children," said the little boy, "as I
heard them while I passed along the road that
brought me here. And do you know why they
were crying? Because there are no trees to
light, no candles to burn, no stockings to hang,
no carols to sing, no holly to make into
wreaths—no gladness anywhere. And they are very
frightened because Christmas has been lost."
Then Santa did the funniest thing. He blew
his nose so hard that he blew tears into his eyes
and down his cheeks.
"Fee, fi, fo, fum—I'm a stupid old fool!" said
he. "It's too late to do Christmas alone this
year; but I might—yes, I might—get help.
The world is full of spirits who love the children
as much as I do. If they will lend me a hand,
this once, we might do it."
Then he went into his house and brought out
his wonderful magic whistle that calls the
reindeer; and he blew it once, twice, three times;
and the next instant the eight were bounding
over the snow toward him.
"Go!" he commanded. "Go as quickly as
ever you can to all the spirits of the earth,
water, and air, and tell them Santa Claus needs
their help this year to bring back Christmas to
 Away flew the reindeer, and in less time than
it takes a cloud to scud across the sky they were
back again and with them the most wonderful
gathering that has ever been seen since the
world was made. There were giants from
Norway and trolls from Sweden; there were
dwarfs and elves from the mines of Cornwall
and fairies from the hills of Ireland; there were
brownies from Scotland and goblins from
Germany; the Yule nisse and the skrattle from
Denmark; and fairy godmothers from everywhere.
And from the ocean came the mermaids and
the mermen; and from the rivers and brooks
came nixies and nymphs and swan maidens.
And they all came eager to help. Santa Claus
brought down from the attic the key of the
workshop and soon everybody was busy at his own
particular craft. Not a word was spoken, and
for those three days not a soul rested or slept.
The dwarfs and the elves made hammers and
planes and saws, knives and skates,
and drums, rings and pins and necklaces of
precious stones, for they are the oldest metal-workers
under the sun. And the fairies are the
finest spinners; and they spun cloth of silk,
ribbons and fine laces, yes, and flaxen hair for
dolls. The leprechaun, who is the fairy cobbler,
 made slippers of all colors and sizes from baby-dolls'
shoes to real little girls' party slippers
and boys' skating-boots. The giants cut down
trees and sawed them into logs and boards
while the trolls made them into boats and
houses, sleds and beds and carriages. The
mermaids gathered shells and pearls for beads;
the brownies stitched and sewed and dressed
the dolls that Santa himself had made. I don't
know what the nixies made, unless it was the
There was one little goblin too little to know
how to do anything, and as no one had time to
teach him he wandered about, very unhappy,
until a bright idea popped into his head. Then
away he scuttled down to the timber-lands to
tell the Christmas trees to hurry up and try to
grow a bit, because the children would need
them, after all.
Well, the long and short of it was that on
Christmas Eve everything was finished; and
never since Santa Claus was a lad himself had
there been such an array of toys. They were
so fine and they shone so bright that the
children going to bed that night said to one
another, "Look up yonder and see the Northern
 The toys were at last packed in the sleigh and
the boy climbed in on the seat next to Santa,
and they were just driving away when a wee
old Irish fairy woman stepped up with a great
" 'Tis stockings," said she. "I've knitted
one for every child, for I knew well the poor
things would never be hanging up their own
So it happened that the Christmas that was
nearly lost was found, after all, and when the
children woke up in the morning they saw their
stockings full of toys and the tall green trees all
trimmed and waiting for them. And when
Santa reached the North Pole again, very tired
and sleepy, but not at all grumbly, he heard a
noise that sounded like running brooks and
singing birds and waving grasses and blowing
winds all wrapped up together; and he said
"Dear, dear me! what can that be? It sounds
very like the laughter of little children all over
And that is precisely what it was.
When he had finished, Mr. Peter leaned over
and whispered to David; and David cleared his
 throat as if he were going to make a long speech.
Then he told his plan to Barney and Johanna
and asked them would they do it.
"The heathens!" was all Johanna said; but
she sounded distinctly surprised, almost
"Why not?" said Barney. "Mind, your
calling them that doesn't make them it. And
what if they were? Is that any reason?"
"Maybe not," agreed Johanna. "Only when
a body's got the habit o' thinking folks are not
her kind o' folks it takes a powerful bit o'
thinking to think them different."
"Sure it does. We'll leave ye to do the
thinking while the three of us go out to the
woodshed and knock together them sign-posts the
little lad is wishing for."
And Barney led the way, while a very happy
boy and a man with an amused twinkle in his
eyes followed at his heels.